Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Mom Thinks I'm a Hippie (And So Do I): Green Cleaning Ingredients

Becoming a mom makes one a little neurotic about things (please tell me I'm not the only one who became neurotic?). Before I was married and contemplated (seriously, at least) bringing another life into the world, I had it all figured out. We all had it all figured out as teenagers, right? I was going to be getting an epidural, followed by bottle-feeding, and not batting an eye at crying it out. Oh boy, I've officially hit three of the biggest mom controversies ever. Well, this post isn't about those topics and please don't get all defensive. I'm just being honest here. Things didn't go as I had planned. I ended up with a lot more time to think about how I would raise my family than I had expected. Thus began my journey into the world of being a (somewhat) crunchy mom.

The beauty of living now is that we have choices. My choices aren't the right choices for everyone, but they are the right choices for me. In the end, my journey through parenthood has been the exact opposite of my childhood daydreams. I've become a natural-birthing, breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering hippie. My mom thinks I've gone off the deep end. It didn't stop there. Enter household cleaners. Finally, we've reached the point of this whole post. I've already stuck my toe on the other side of "crunchiness," why not just jump right in?

I'll be breaking this topic up. Today, we'll be talking about "Green Cleaning." In this post, I'll discuss the basic ingredients needed to make your own cleaners and then I'll do some subsequent posts about the recipes I've tried and what has/hasn't worked. This has been a trial and error topic for me. So, I'll be updating as I learn new tricks.

I think it goes without saying that our cleaning products can be, um, harsh? The chemicals that are present in the products we use are really downright frightening when you look at it. We're talking chemicals that are labeled as carcinogens, are known to cause cancer, respiratory issues, reproductive issues, etc. And we spend ridiculous amounts of money on them! Funny thing is, you can literally (can anyone else hear that word and not think of Parks & Rec, or is it just me?) clean your entire house for so much less with just a few magic ingredients.

Here's the list of ingredients I started with:
  • White Distilled Vinegar - the single greatest and most versatile cleaning aid. And, it's SO CHEAP! A lot of people complain about the smell, but I answer that with two things: 1) It doesn't stick around. Once vinegar dries/evaporates/whatever, the smell is gone and 2) Get over it. Eventually you'll learn to like it. It's amazing how much other cleaners burn my nose now. I feel a little comforted by the smell of vinegar these days. Though not as effective as products like bleach, studies have proven that vinegar can reduce e.coli, salmonella, and other yucky things living in your house. We'll discuss how it can be made more effective later. So, you can get nearly the same disinfecting power without the use of something as harsh as bleach.
  • Castile Soap - This stuff really is magic. It can be used for so many things and comes in so many great scents. I've used it in my hair, as baby wash, as a wipe solution for cloth diapers, as dish soap. Plus, it's all natural and made from a vegetable base instead of petroleum (you know, that stuff your car runs on?) so it already sounds better. If you want some interesting watching, there is a documentary on Dr. Bronner. He was, er... eccentric?
  • Washing Soda - Not to be confused with baking soda, though they come in pretty much identical boxes.
  • Essential Oils - These are not necessary, but do make for some great smelling cleaners with a little more oomph. In addition to scent, they have natural cleaning properties. I was able to find all of these at my local vitamin store. Some of my favs are:
    • Tea Tree - A powerful anti-fungal, anti-septic, and anti-viral. It may not smell the best, but it's got some really awesome cleaning abilities!
    • Lemon - Another disinfectant. And, it smells lemony-fresh!
    • Sweet Orange - It doesn't have a lot of cleaning properties, but I like to add it for scent purposes.
    • Other good ones are peppermint and eucalyptus
  • Baking Soda - This works as a natural deodorizer and creates your mildly abrasive cleaners
  • Salt - I'm still experimenting with different types of salt (sea salt vs. kosher salt vs. pickling salt) but this also adds an abrasive characteristic to your cleaners.
There are a few more ingredients that I'll talk about later in specific recipes, but one I want to discuss a little more in depth is Borax. Borax is a common ingredient in homemade cleaning products. I used it in my first batch of cleaners without question, but in my next round I wanted to check the ingredients I was using and make sure they were as harmless as I thought. Everything passed with flying colors except Borax. Which got a big, fat "F" from the Environmental Working Group's database on cleaners. I didn't want this to be my only source and so I went digging. Borax is a controversial ingredient. Some are saying that it's just fine, while others argue that something that works so well at killing roaches couldn't possibly be safe to use as an everyday household cleaner. While the conclusion the author reached in this post is not the conclusion I've reached, she outlines the facts about Borax quite well. At this point in time, I plan on trying to leave borax out of my homemade cleaners. I mean, if I can make things that work just as well without it, why not? Then I don't even have to worry about it. However, if I find that things work better with it, I'll revisit the subject later. 

In the mean time, if you want to test a new batch of recipes you can follow me in the coming posts. I'm anxiously awaiting my BPA-free spray bottles (which unfortunately don't have the best reviews, but I got them for a killer deal and am going to try them anyway) and my microfiber cleaning cloths to come in the mail. Then, I'll be getting started on a new batch of All-Purpose Spray and trying a new version of dishwasher detergent (since the last batch didn't go over quite so well). 

And, I need to figure out how to get more pictures in these posts. Wall-o-text isn't very inviting, is it? Give yourself a pat on the back if you made it this far!

So, just because she's cute! Evelyn wanted to give daddy a hug: